The Family Stone

I am sitting in an office surrounded by sample cemetery markers. Polished blue granite. Black granite. Marble. Brass plates engraved with what I would assume are fake names and dates. The lady sitting across the table from me is about my age. She is polite, friendly, and understanding of my reason for being there. But, to her, this is just another meeting.

A young lady joins us at the table with a laptop. “You tell me what you want on any of our models, and I can work up a sample for you in just a minute so you can see what it will look like.”

We discuss a few options. I pick D164. Simple lines. A polished face with rough cut sides and top. And almost as quick as you can blink, I am staring at a computer mock-up of a granite headstone with my last name on it. There are several real headstones in the Berea Cemetery similar to this image, and I have visited them many times over the years. The final resting place of my ancestors. But there is something different today. This is personal. This is about a final resting place for us.

Next, came the grave marker. The options are astounding. I was reminded of looking through the old Sears and Roebuck catalogue trying to pick out my favorite toy for Christmas. Brass plates. Pillow style granite. Upright slants. With or without a base. Polished or frosted. Designs in everything from Cherubs to tractors and fishing poles.

I am unschooled on these things. “Should I use Elizabeth, or just Beth? Everybody knew her as Beth. Elizabeth seems so formal.”

“We usually recommend that the family stick with the given name. It’s more reflective of the official record.” Her tone sounds a little like an IRS auditor I visited with once upon a time. “We can always put her common name in parenthesis out to the side.”

Elizabeth “Beth” Ann Williams Chappell

I’m thinking I’m going to need a stone the size of an aircraft carrier.

She almost always signed her name “Elizabeth”. That was her official name. Loan applications. Job applications. Retirement forms. Doctor’s office. Bank documents. Large round script. Cursive like she had learned in school and had taught in school for years. Capital letters in proportion to lower case letters. The tail of necessary consonants perfectly below the line. Her signature looked like the alphabet letters on the wall above the chalk board in third grade. Concise. Clean.

“Why can’t people just learn to write,” was a criticism she would make from time to time when she looked at some squiggly mix of lines on a piece of paper that was supposed to be a signature. I can tell you this. All three of her kids, to this day, sign their names in a legible script, and so do I. It’s probably why she agreed to marry me.

There were a few exceptions. More personal notes, like Christmas cards or graduation notes. Even notes she wrote to me and left on the stove for me to remember to pick up bread and milk after work. “Beth” in perfect cursive.

She also signed her checks that way. She would endorse with Elizabeth but kept it simple when writing checks. Not so long ago she went through the drive-through at the bank with a check, and in a rush, she endorsed the check with her regular name. There was a new lady behind the window who told her that she could not deposit the check because it wasn’t endorsed with her formal name, like on the bank record. You’d have to know her to understand that she was both mad as a wet hen that the bank wouldn’t work with her and embarrassed that she had made such a stupid mistake.

She had standards.

I settled on the official version. Elizabeth Williams Chappell. It’s simple. It’s proper. With all of her genealogical research, she would have wanted it to be accurate. She always had a tough time matching up Census records to grave markers when the names were a little different. She would have wanted it right.

The young lady at the table next to me turns her laptop where I can see it. “How does this look?” she says.

There is a weight that falls over you the first time you see your wife’s name etched on a piece of granite, even if it is only on a computer screen. Over the last couple of weeks, I have stood in the middle of my house several times wondering if all of this is real. Seeing her name like this is enough to remind me of our brief and quiet passage from this life. It is real.

“I like that.” At least, I think that I nodded my approval.

“This particular font is 1.25” tall. We can make that smaller or larger.” She shows me several different layouts. Examples of text on a polished background and then on a frosted background. “The frosted background makes things a lot easier to read, especially when we add a touch of paint inside the letters. Here’s one without the paint. Here’s one with the paint.”

When Beth and I were remodeling our bathroom, we had a similar experience looking at finishes and fixtures. Here’s the high gloss sample. Here’s the mat finish. This faucet has a single lever, but we have a version with both the hot and cold knobs. If you don’t like the chrome, it also comes in antique brass, black, brushed nickel, white, bronze and gold. Here’s one with the glass knobs. Here’s one with porcelain knobs.

There was a floral design at the top of the stone just above her name. “Can we get rid of the flowers,” I asked. Personal taste is a funny thing. I wouldn’t say it was gaudy. It just didn’t fit her, I didn’t think. “How about a cross on the left-hand side beside the dates?” I was thinking she might like that.

My computer friend tapped on the keypad, swiped, copied and pasted. The flowers were gone, and a cross appeared. Her first choice looked like a spire that belonged on top of the Cathedral at Notre Dame. “Maybe something a little less ornate with clean straight lines?” Beth was not an elaborate person. More taps and swipes. The computer swiveled back my way. “Perfect. She would like that.”

Everything I do these days seems to be about her. If I hang a picture on the wall, I wonder what she would think. If I put a pan in the oven to make garlic bread, I make sure to go easy on the garlic salt like she would do. When I put clothes in the washer, I am aware of her voice. I’ll let you imagine what she is saying.

Even with these stones of granite, she is beside me in my mind. One more task that has to be done. One more decision to be made that will live on beyond our final breath on this earth. Our family. Our marker on this side of heaven.

I think she would approve.

9 thoughts on “The Family Stone

  1. I’m torn between being broken hearted for you, Paul, and scared to death knowing either Connie or myself will be going through this one day. I can only pray that we would have half the faith and grace that you have shown..

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  2. Paul, I’m sure she would approve. The business of taking care of mama’s affairs made me feel like I was still taking care of mama. Now that things are almost completely taken care of, I find myself wondering what to do. I’m sure you know that from taking care of your parents. Thoughts and prayers for you.

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  3. Paul that was so touching. You have a way with words. Love your blogs and love you.
    Even in your most trying time you continue to be a Blessing to others.

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  4. I bet that was so hard to do and not something that most couple ever discuss. My husband I were riding through an old cemetery today and I actually told him what kind of marker I wanted. I am sure she would be pleased with your choices. 🙏

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  5. Your love for Beth is so dear. I know one day we will face these same moments, either Craig or I. Your words teach us to cherish the days we have, a reminder that our lives on this earth are brief. 🥀 (Oh, and I wouldn’t want the flowers, either. Good choice)

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  6. You are so kind for sharing, and I know that there is some therapy in so doing. Know that you are in my heart, dear friend, as you have to pace your steps through all of this, daily. It does not come easily for any of us, though you allow us a window into your process. It’s helpful. Know I will do anything to help you.

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